Four Years but Love is Forever

I have footprints on my heart. Don’t think that because they were left there four years ago they have faded. The impact of those tiny feet on my heart is irrevocable. I will be forever changed by losing a baby at birth. Besides a tiny curl of dark hair, all I physically have of her is a little plaster cast of her feet. Of course it is unspeakably precious to me. I have it nestled in a piece of the same fleecy soft blanket she is buried in. This is much more than many poor women who lose babies through miscarriage get.

Those of you who are close to me or have been following my blog for some time will know that I lost my baby Josephine just before she was born, due to a cord accident. She was my sixth and I was so ready for her to come…the bassinet set up, newborn diapers on the shelf, the house stocked with groceries…I even had her Christmas present already: a wind-up musical swan with her baby on her back.

She was fine at our last checkup, and then, that night in the hospital…no heartbeat. Just silence. Of course it broke my heart. My family and friends, sweet husband and kids helped hold it together.

She would have been four years old this Sunday, September 30th.

Four years and two healthy babies later, I am much more ok than I was at her first anniversary, or even her second, but sometimes things catch me off guard. I was trying to plan her birthday…maybe lots of us could go to the graveyard and bring tons of flowers…and then I thought, four year olds don’t want flowers! They want toys, and cake and balloons…music and mess and the chaos of 20 kids running through the house dressed as fairies and princesses. It hurts that I can’t give her those things, even though she doesn’t need them. Even though she’s up with the stars and her heart is brimming with love, utterly safe, totally loved, in the peaceful presence of God. I still want to do these simple, silly things for her.

So, we do what we can. The kids and I have made it a birthday week. The other day when we ordered groceries from Save-On, we got chocolate cake. We put on candles and sang. We celebrate her because we love her. We are proud she’s part of our family.

We ordered ice-cream, too and had it the next day. Ben and Jerry’s “If I had a Million Flavours.” We made blueberry crisp, too. We will have mini-cereal boxes on her birthday, as we do for the other kids on their birthdays, because they need her to be just another one of them. She’s in Heaven, but she’s still their sister.

On Sunday after Mass and pancakes we will go to the graveyard and bring flowers. We will spend a little time near her praying, and the little ones will likely run about on the grass and read the names of the people who’ve gone before us: young soldiers from the bicycle squad, grandmas and grandpas from the old country, mothers, fathers, babies who never took a breath outside the womb. All the people who await us in Heaven.

Then, because it’s nice to not be alone on this bittersweet day, we will pick up some of our favourite Indian take-out and go to have dinner at a friend’s place. Surrounded by love, just like our daughter Josephine.

Next week we will plant fall flower bulbs to bloom next spring, just like we did last year: Josephine’s flowers. Hiding under the earth and snow, but secretly full of life. Like the promise of eternal life…always making this life more beautiful.

We want her to be remembered. We are proud to be her family. Sharing her story helps us to honour her and to heal, and to know we are not alone.

Do you have footprints on your heart?

Share your story with #IHaveFootprintsOnMyHeart.

Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Love your Cake Maternity pjs and wear them, too! Or why busy moms deserve pretty pjs…

Today my new nursing chemise arrived from Cake Maternity. I was so excited to try it but I thought I’d wait for a special occasion and put on my regular bedtime attire…and old t-shirt and plaid pyjama pants.

This outfit lasted less than an hour as Miss Baby decided to decorate it with a rather generous helping of milk. This may not have been been the special occasion I was hoping for, being far too frequent to be deemed special in any way, but it was reason enough to change, so I decided to try my new nightie on.

I carefully snipped the Cake Maternity label off and put in on my bathroom shelf. I liked the motto: Love The Body You’re In. It was symbolic for me as a mom…love the body you’re in now, as it is, with all its changes, and similarly, love the life you’re in, now, as it is…embrace it and appreciate it…this time with tiny people running about and a chubby baby smiling on my hip or snuggling into my neck with her fuzzy peach head.

This also means embracing and appreciating myself. Not waiting for later to wear the smooth, comfortable chemise that had arrived wrapped so prettily in tissue paper as if it was a gift from a friend earlier that day. Saying, today is special enough, because everyone deserves to be treated with gentleness and love every day, even me, a mom…and perhaps, for mothers, who dedicate their lives to making others feel special, it is even more important that we fill our well and do things that make us feel special also...that we love the body that we are in…that we honour it as a place of generous creativity, a place of love and of life.

Yes, this is all a fancy way of saying that we moms deserve pretty pjs! But it’s because they symbolize something much greater…self-respect, feminine dignity, comfort…and the humility to know we are merely human and need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to serve our families.

While I pondered these things the baby began to squawk a bit and needed a snuggle dance to settle down. I discovered that the skirt flits about nicely just above the knees as I rocked the baby to sleep…and feels elegant and cheerful…as opposed to the tired old plaid pj pants which drag on the floor, in great danger of picking up stray Cheerios, dust bunnies or stickers.

With a sweet empire waist and easily adjustable shoulder straps, you can make it fit just right…whether you’re expecting a baby or already nursing one. And what makes this a nursing chemise is the fact that the straps have little hooks that open, just like a nursing bra, so you can nurse properly without having to stretch your pajamas out of shape…the sad fate of other non-nursing nighties.

The sporty back gives it a nice “I can do this!” feeling, which helps for night wakings or those endurance “please, go to sleep, baby” dances. Also, the straps can’t slide off your shoulders, so you never need extra hands to pull them back up, risking waking baby in the process.

It so helps that I could order the chemise online, rather than trying to buy clothes with my 7 kids in tow. Last time I bought pjs it was after about 2 hours of chasing kids through Value Village and another hour of waiting while they tried stuff on in the limited change rooms (my four eldest are girls!).

When it was “my turn” to find pajamas I just grabbed the first thing I thought could work and hurried to the cash, with my overflowing cart and procession of tired hungry kids. What I grabbed off the reject rack were soft orange and white striped capris joggers…or as the kids call them, my pirate pants. I usually wear them to bed with my black t-shirt that says, “Sarcasm loading…please wait.”

Charming right? So given that my options are looking like a sarcastic, washed up pirate or a sweet, elegant mother, I’m so glad to have my new chemise from Cake Maternity! Bed is my favourite place at the end of a long day–may as well dress up for it! 🙂

This lovely chemise was given to me in exchange for my honest review of it.

Thanks, Cake Maternity!

Sweet Relief

Darling, I’d like to write you beautiful poems

after your long awaited arrival

and the desperate relief of the moment

you came slipping out like a selkie

from the waters inside

and beached yourself on my belly….

But right now I’m in such a happy bubble

that all I can think of is silly mama speak

you little pink piglet sweetie pie flower bud

baby blossom wonderful one

You are warm

You are safe

You are here

You are here

You are here

Little Astronaut

Tiny traveller

from the realm of inner space,

you float suspended

in dark warm liquid

upside down

untouched by gravity

tethered by a lifeline

to the mothership.

Outside, tiny blue rivers

run in veins over the rolling horizon.

Your world curves around you

like a constant embrace,

the pulse of your universe

beats reassuringly in your ears.

When you are launched into the outer world

in an epic one-foot journey–

“One small step for mankind”–

you enter a new solar system

where bright light abounds,

but the starlight from your former home

forever twinkles in your eyes.

Tiny traveller,

welcome to the world!

(Image from Hubble Telescope)

8 quick tips for dealing with pregnancy nausea 

A few of my close girlfriends are expecting, so I thought I’d share my best tips for keeping that queasy tummy under control and minimizing pregnancy nausea. Let’s get you enjoying food again as much as my daughter enjoys her peanut butter sandwich!


1. Eat often. This is key. Small frequent meals help maintain an even blood sugar and prevent those woozy, dizzy crashes and feeling weak. Basically treat yourself like a newborn, and eat every 2-3 hours in the daytime. Things like healthy smoothies, trail mix, cheese and crackers, yogurt and banana, bran muffins, fruit etc. Make sure to have stuff around that you enjoy eating, and seize the moment to cook when you’re feeling ok. Slow cookers are great this way!

2. Eat heartily. Make sure there’s some good fat and protein in what you eat. Healthy is good, but when you’re growing a baby, you need more than salad greens. So have hummus with your veggie sticks, or choose a Greek salad with feta and olives. 

3. Don’t drown your food. Too much liquid sloshing around is a formula for a lost lunch. For me, a hot breakfast sandwich topped by cold juice = 😝!! Instead sip something between meals…like tea with milk and honey, or ginger ale. 

4. Don’t eat and run. There’s nothing like the stress of eating in a rush and running out the door to ensure your panicky stomach will lose its contents. So slow down and savour your food. Remember building a baby is important work!

5. Let you body decide. If you really crave something, and it’s not a clearly forbidden food during pregnancy, like raw sushi, go for it. Don’t be perfectionist when you’re feeling queasy–almost any food is better than no food when you’re growing an entire new person inside! Allow yourself to order in sometimes, or go out. Food someone else prepared can be so much yummier…and new moms need to be ‘mothered’, too! 

6. Say yes to that midnight snack. If you wake up feeling icky, don’t wait for the morning to eat, because you’ll feel even worse. Scramble out of bed and have some cereal and milk, a relaxing tea like Sleepytime, or some toast. Sometimes leftover pizza works, too! Taking care of your tummy now gives you a better chance of feeling decent in the morning, instead of starting the day on a deficit. 

7. Always pack a snack. Makes sure you have easy-grab snacks to throw in your purse when you go out. The last thing you need when you’re getting errands done or taking kids to the park is to feel woozy! Apples, trail mix, muffins, or a healthy bar like Vega One meal replacement bar or Vega Sport. 

8. Try to get more sleep. Exhaustion just aggravates nausea, so getting an extra hour of sleep, or losing it, can make a real difference. If you’re feeling crummy, sometimes a nap is the best way to hit reset and start over again feeling better. If you feel guilty resting (which you shouldn’t!), call a nap by a different name: N. N. A. P. : Neo-Natal Alteration Process (in other words, rest time is baby-growing time!). Good luck! And happy baby baking! 👶

Messy, vulnerable perfection…

I heard a story of a baby conceived in difficult circumstances…a troubled teenage mom, the father not involved, the family in distress and full of uncertainty. And I thought about Christmas—the Holy Family…young, poor, without a place to stay, rejected…a bad scene—from the outside. And inside, for the eyes of faith: warmth, love, light, God’s graceful providence. And hope. Hope because God in His great mercy was willing to share in our fragile human life…in the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

Do we reject Him? Do we run away from the source of all goodness because He has the smell of a stable? Because He is okay with a bed of straw? Do we keep seeking Him in the silken sheets of palaces, because we want a God made in our image? And this is the image we want: riches, comfort, power, control. Not the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

These are not new ideas, but I think they are worth revisiting. Because embracing new life, no matter what the circumstances, is a way to embrace God. Trusting that He is with us in everything, and is able to bring good out of everything, even when we mess up, even when things don’t go according to our plans—made with our small human minds and our limited vision. Even when our plans don’t include the messy, vulnerable perfection that is a baby. 

But maybe it’s precisely that baby who will be our salvation, who will bring untold goodness to the world, who will change our lives and our hearts for the better. This Christmas season, which is still going on, let’s try to remember that in embracing our human reality, with all its difficulties, we are also embracing God, who has entered into it…Who has raised it up to touch the Divine. When we eventually caress the face of that baby, born unplanned and unexpected, let us realize we are also touching the face of God, who enters our lives with His unexpected plans, and changes them forever. 

 

A Letter to Heaven

  
Dear Little Jo,

Tomorrow is a big day for Mummy. Your little brother is going to be born. We are going to coax him out into the world three weeks early, in hopes that he can be safe. In hopes that things will go differently than last time. He kicks and wiggles hello to you, his big sister in Heaven. 

Know, my dear one, that you are very much in my heart right now, as ever. Your little brother is, as a friend told me today, one of your many gifts to me. So I thank you for constantly making my life richer, deeper and more exquisitely beautiful. How much I love you!

After losing you in labour last time, I am afraid. When I think about how I couldn’t save you, I tremble. I want to cry. I want to hide my head in my blankets and not come out. But I know there is a greater, deeper plan than the one I can understand. I know you are safe and beautiful and loved. That you always will be. 

And I want you to know, my little sweetheart, that no matter how much time passes, you will always be my special baby, even when you have grown wise beyond your brief time on earth by so much time spent in Heaven, that timeless place of Love, where I hope to join you one day. 

Save me a huge hug and so many kisses, and tomorrow shower us with the grace of your perfect little prayers, as your brother makes his epic journey into this world. I know that we are wrapped in the wings of angels, and lifted up by the strength of so many heartfelt prayers. 

I pray that our new little one may, above all, become like his sister, a saint—a sweet beacon of love for the world. 

All my heart’s embraces,

Your Mummy

The Feast of All Saints

Nesting, nesting, 1, 2, 3…

 
It’s nesting time in the Eastland household, with less than a week to go until baby! I’m really happy to report that I’ve been able to do some of the normal things to prepare for baby…and that I’m actually feeling generally ok. After losing little Josephine in labour last time, I haven’t been able to even let myself imagine this baby too much…but I’m starting to! I think the prayers of loved ones have lifted some weight from my shoulders, and I’ve managed to do a bunch of things on my baby preparation list:

1. Stock up the house with groceries. My dear friend Cheryl watched the kids for me (and cleaned the kitchen!) while her husband took me grocery shopping. He kindly put up with my crazy preganancy shop and helped me fill two enormous carts of groceries, and bring them all home after. They just had their own rainbow baby a few months ago, and wanted to do something concrete to help support me as I prepare for mine. Doing this normal pre-baby thing made me feel more calm and optimistic.

2. Clean the house. I know it sounds like a funny thing to do so far ahead, when my house is a constantly evolving circus of art projects, blanket forts, and imaginary castles, but what I mean is that I stayed home from mom’s group to help my paid cleaners do a little extra…pull out the beds to vacuum and mop underneath, replace light bulbs, dust the window ledges and lamps etc. Many dust bunnies and long lost objects were found!

3. Pack the hospital bag. This was a big one. It meant acknowledging that this baby is coming for real. And soon. That it’s not all a dream, and that I’m actually going to need his little outfits to come home in this time. That I will get to use my nursing cover this time…that there will be a baby who suckles and cries instead of being silent. The fact that I could prepare the hospital bag without getting upset was for me a surprise and a tiny miracle. 

4. Get out the newborn clothes and diapers. This was also a biggie. I’m really happy that I actually enjoyed sorting through the little boy clothes, and filling the drawer with cute things for 0-3 months. “Why did you do it, Mum?” my 9 year old asked me, “We might not need the newborn diapers. We might get two saints.” “I know honey, that’s true, but I’m hoping for the best. And didn’t open the package of diapers, so we could always give them away if we had to.”  Gotta love the brutal honesty of children. My 5 year old told me cheerfully, “After the baby comes, we will have a party at Holy Family, right? Either a baptism or a funeral?”  “Yes.” My four year old was sweet at bedtime prayers…”I pray baby brother will come out and snuggle us and suck on my finger.” She knows what babies like!

5. Order new homeschool supplies. I thought it would be a good idea to order some new books now, so that a few weeks after that baby comes, fun parcels will arrive in the mail, and the kids will be excited to read new books and work on new workbooks…even if Mummy is still generally horizontal with baby!

But the icing on this layer cake of baby nesting activities was certainly a special pre-baby party my awesome friend Kate organized for me last Saturday, called a blessingway. Rather than a big early birthday party with tons of baby gifts and funny games, this was a beautiful evening of good company, nice food, emotional support and special prayers for baby’s safe arrival.

I got spoiled with beautiful flowers, as Kate had the idea everyone should bring some at reminded them of me. Most were gorgeous coppery red ones, rather like my hair and glasses…cheerful gerberas and  feathery tulips, but also a poignant white rose from my friend and midwife Terry-Lyn, and a white and greenish bouquet from Kate…with cabbages in it for her veggie friend!  

Fancy chocolate, nice coffee, cosy slippers, homemade lavender bath salts, a cosy homemade crocheted blanket for baby, and generous gift cards also arrived with sweet cards full of encouraging words. This beautiful quote was in Terry-Lyn’s card: 

It’s not just the making of babies, but the making of mothers that midwives see as the miracle of birth.

Barbara Kate Rothman

Can you see why I love my midwives so much? I even wrote a piece for the anthology Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood about midwives and the mystery of motherhood.

There was also a special appearance by my dear old friend Fr. McDonnell, whom I’ve known for nearly 15 years. We used to go to Tim Hortons and Boston pizza together to chat with friends after Mass and compline evening prayers when he was still ‘just’ Brian. It’s so lovely to have him back in town again as one of our parish priests. He made everyone laugh by showing them old pictures of nearly teenage me on his phone. “She never changes,” he said sweetly. 

Fr. McDonnell came to give me the beautiful blessing for a safe labour, and to bless the candles and holy cards of St. Gerard that everyone would take home to light and pray for me these coming days. It is a comforting thing to have special traditions for expectant mothers, and to even have a patron saint for them.   

Thank you to everyone who has helped me prepare for baby so far, and who is holding me close in prayer as the big day approaches. Because of my usual late pregnancy liver condition, colistasis,  we plan to deliver three weeks early, on November 2nd. This is safer for the baby, as this condition has a slight correlation with stillbirth which increases as time goes on. Happily in an ultrasound a few weeks ago, the cord was no where near the baby’s neck like last time, so that is at least a huge relief.    Starting this Friday, the midwives will do stuff to get things going, like a stretch and sweep, and on Monday morning I’ll be downing a charming labour cocktail of protein smoothie with castor oil, and which has always worked in the past to get babies out. Then another sweep. If baby needs more coaxing to come out, my OB goes on call Monday night so she will do the rest. 

Sorry for the rather long update…but I finally found some quiet moments, deep in the night, with only my iPad and heartburn for company, so I thought I’d seize the chance to write before there is a little nocturnal creature wiggling in my arms! Less than a week to go!

Born of Hope

Sweet mother

pray for me

in this time

when more than ever

I need hope.

You know what it is 

to lose a child

without letting your hope be whipped away

by winds of despair.

You know what it is

to love again

to love still

to be courageous enough

to be vulnerable.

We are all

in a way

your rainbow babies.

Born of the sorrow of your heart

on losing Jesus.

Born of the intense burst of love

that broke out of your heart

that day at the foot of the cross

  

when beauty shone through your tears

like sunbeams pouring from a steely sky

making rainbows flicker

in the maternal tenderness

of your eyes.

Help me hope again!

Help me trust again!

May I be a courageous mother like you

brave enough to believe

I will soon hold my little boy

breathing this time

Alive!

in my arms.